The Friday interview: Maeve Kneafsey, IIA

7 Dec 2007

Maeve Kneafsey (pictured) is the new chair of the Irish Internet Association (IIA), which is now in its 11th year and includes 900 organisations, from SMEs to public-sector bodies.

Many people still think of the internet as something ‘new’, but the IIA is in its 11th year. How has the organisation developed in that time?
You need to look at it in the context of the economy and the fact that the internet has grown to play a more important role and impact on businesses. Small businesses in particular can compete on an equal footing in a global market and maximise efficiencies. The character of the IIA and its membership has changed to match that. When it first began in 1996, it was a collection of enthusiasts more than anything else. But that has changed enormously. Nearly every member company is successful and is in a growth phase – there’s an entrepreneurial spirit running through the various organisations. Originally, it was about creating a forum for networking, but now all its members are competing on an international stage, looking at a global market of six billion people.

What was your first inkling that the internet was going to be so important?
When I first started in the internet business, I was publisher of magazine and we set up the Golden Spider Awards. The environment was different then; it was mostly geeks and artists who felt the world was going to change, but it didn’t feel real.
It’s real now. People can immediately see that the internet has taken centre stage – whether you’re a government agency trying to be more efficient or a business trying to win new customers through the internet.

A common lament is that Ireland is not at the races when it comes to broadband. Do you agree?
The truth of the matter is that we are not moving fast enough. If Ireland wants to have a vibrant online community and enable small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to compete globally, then we’ll need to roll it out faster to the locations that need it.
The speed at which this happens is essential. We think Ireland could do better and the IIA will lobby to make that happen.

Do you believe the public sector is using the internet effectively?
A growing segment of our membership is from government agencies. Without the internet, in a booming economy, public services such as planning permission information wouldn’t be as readily available as it is now. It would be forgotten in the rush.
The Irish Government knows that if it wants to be competitive, it has to get the best information out to the people who need it. If Ireland is to stay ahead of the posse in technology, the worst thing now would be to not provide incentives or invest in new technology companies. The Government needs to focus on getting broadband rolled out quickly and efficiently, investing in online services and doing more business with SMEs.

Is the Government doing enough business with indigenous SMEs?
We believe the Government wants to do business with SMEs. But key to this is smaller companies making themselves attractive to doing business with the Government. All it takes is time and effort. There are resources out there such as eTenders and if you win business with a state body once, you’ll do it again. There are practical advantages to public-sector bodies doing business with SMEs – they would get a dedicated focus and a high standard of service.

By John Kennedy

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